Let’s Get Intimate: Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships with Anne Beverly Chow

I recently heard, “Honesty without tact is cruelty.” I thought that was really true. You can’t be truthful and have no filter and all that, but without tact and appropriate timing, it’s just being mean. Intention is everything. I also like the idea of being “a spiritual being having a human existence.” There is so […]

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I recently heard, “Honesty without tact is cruelty.” I thought that was really true. You can’t be truthful and have no filter and all that, but without tact and appropriate timing, it’s just being mean. Intention is everything. I also like the idea of being “a spiritual being having a human existence.” There is so much power in realizing that no matter what mistakes we’ve made or victories we’ve had, we’ve learned from it all.

As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Anne Beverly Chow, Owner of Bluebird Counseling Center in McLean, Virginia. She is a Counselor in Residence under the supervision of Sandy Molle, LPC.

Before entering the field of mental health, Anne served as a special education teacher for 10 years. Earning a Master’s Clinical Mental Health, Anne opened her own private counseling practice in 2018. She provides counseling services to individuals and couples both in her office and online. Anne specializes in helping women to cultivate or reclaim their voice and advocates for everyone to love themselves just as they are. She also has a YouTube channel called “Ask Anne” coming out soon.

Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s Get Intimate! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

I was a special education teacher for 10 years and the very best part of my job was helping high school students with self-esteem, body image issues, and the ups and downs of being a teenager. I also helped my students’ parents with their anxiety about the future, college, etc. There was a tipping point when I realized that teaching chemistry was getting in the way of my true calling, which was to counsel people and help them feel more hopeful. I quit teaching, went back to graduate school and eventually opened my own counseling center. I called it Bluebird Counseling Center because the bluebird is a universal symbol for happiness.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

Speaking generally, the adult women that come into my office for therapy fall into two extremes. The first is the woman who says, “I never get angry.” In the second camp is the woman who would classify themselves as “a bitch,” meaning they are angry or annoyed and don’t mind readily sharing their feelings with everyone. There is a third option that falls in the middle of these extremes, and that is being assertive. Being assertive means that you can make your wants and needs to be known, you have the confidence to say no, and you can present your point of view without being overly accommodating or aggressive. Learning to become assertive is a wonderful way to take care of yourself, which is part of self-love.

I’m working on assertiveness training for women. Specifically, a workshop that will be done at yoga and boutique fitness studios for women who have a hard time saying no, expressing themselves, and asking for what they need and want. I hope to empower women to take up more space in a healthy and respectful way that serves them, and those around them.

I’m also working on starting a YouTube channel to spread positive messages to women and help more people get acquainted with the therapeutic process. It’s called “Ask Anne” and it’s coming out next month.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

I grew up in a dysfunctional household with a Narcissistic father, an overwhelmed mother, and my brother has autism, so there wasn’t a lot of room for me and my feelings. After my parents divorced when I was 11, there was even less time, attention, and money to go around. I absolutely did not have a voice in my own family, and like a lot of women, being compliant was my coping strategy. I let other people make decisions for me including how I dressed and who my friends were. Later my family decided where I went to college, who I married, and I went into teaching because my family thought it was “safe.” When my first marriage fell apart, I really spiraled into depression and felt completely out of control.

During that time, I liked to joke that being a 27-year-old divorcé was not on my bucket list. I got my own apartment and learned to live by myself and WITH myself for the first time. Slowly, I took control by taking care of myself, emotionally, physically, and mentally. I went to therapy, tried stand-up comedy, took up jogging, and prayed to the altar of Bikram Yoga, going several times per week for 2 years. I distanced myself from unhealthy relationships, especially those within my family. It wasn’t easy. I felt very guilty about cutting ties with family members for a long time. I remember my therapist saying, “If you could have found a way to have a relationship with your family, you would have found it by now.” That was very powerful because I realized that I had done everything I could do to try and make the dysfunctional, functional. I know in my heart that the hard decisions were the right decisions for me and my situation. When I was ready and feeling mostly whole again, I started dating. I found a wonderful partner who was capable of a secure attachment. We’ve been together for over 7 years and married for 5. He supported my transition out of the classroom and into the field of mental health. It was a long journey, but it could not have been abbreviated. I can say that I’m happy and healthy now.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

Two words — social. media. Many of my clients suffer from what I like to call, “comparitis.” This condition occurs when someone is constantly comparing him or herself to the photoshopped, filtered, FaceTuned, nipped and tucked images they see on social media. It used to be that photoshopping only occurred in glossy magazines at the checkout counter and many people still have that mindset. They think that the Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook pictures are real. The truth is that there is an almost infinite number of ways that someone can alter their appearance from plastic surgery, to getting a smile full of veneers, to hair extensions, and THEN an infinite number of ways to alter the pictures that are posted. This is a new level of deception that we haven’t really seen before and many people don’t quite understand the depths that Insta-celebrities will go for a perfect façade.

The consequences of “comparitis” are disastrous for both men and women. Low self-esteem and poor body image are two huge problems, but I’m seeing clients who are dealing with something a little deeper. They are seeing people who are living these amazing lives — traveling, driving sports cars, flexing their gigantic muscles, or wearing tiny bikinis with a seemingly endless buffet of admirers, and it taps into a profound sense of worthlessness. Their internal narrative begins to include negative thoughts like, “Everyone else has more than I do,” or “I’m a nobody because this person has 3 million followers and I don’t; no one cares about me.” Everyone has these kinds of negative thoughts.

The difference between mentally healthy and unhealthy people is how you deal with them. Are they passing thoughts that can be challenged easily and dismissed or are you believing the lie that you’re worthless? I teach clients to challenge the negative narrative by wondering if the opposite might be true. In the example of comparing yourself to someone with 3 million followers, I might say, “I wonder if many people care about me regardless of how many followers I have.” Once clients get into this practice of challenging their unhealthy narrative, it becomes easier to dismiss negative thoughts. It’s like working out a muscle. The more you strengthen your ability to challenge negative thoughts, the less power they have to ruin your mood.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

I think of loving yourself as a two-part process. The first part involves taking care of yourself, physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s important to remember that every person goes through some sort of trauma. It’s the responsibility of every adult to do the work to heal from their trauma. The healing process might look different for everyone, but the fundamentals are the same. Find things you love to do that nourish your mind, body, and spirit. Do those things regularly, making yourself a top priority. Avoid people, places and things that are re-traumatizing. Repeat as necessary. The change is not instant, it happens over a period of time and hopefully becomes a habit for life. Many of my clients learn that they can rely on themselves to feel better no matter what happens. That is a huge revelation for most and an invaluable skill that no one can take away.

The second part of truly loving yourself is knowing, deep down, that you are worthy of this life you’ve been given. Appreciating your unique body, your thoughts, the way you conduct yourself, all of these things contribute to the awesomely amazing person you are. We spend too much time hating ourselves, and it only contributes to spreading negativity. By embracing your unique qualities, it clears the way for you get in touch with your deeper purpose.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

Most people stay in mediocre relationships because they want (perhaps subconsciously) to preserve the status quo. Change is hard. Even if it means you’d be happier and healthier without your partner or with someone new; doing what’s comfortable is often preferred because it’s easy.

There is also a part of the population who are staying in mediocre or even bad relationships because they are replaying an unhealthy dynamic learned in childhood, hoping to right the wrong of the past. If your father, for example, was controlling and angry, you might end up with someone who has similar traits. When this happens, you will likely want to make your partner more loving and understanding because of that lingering frustration over not being able to change your father. Your inner child hopes to create a better outcome, finally getting that validation that you are good enough, as evidenced by your partner’s willingness to change for you. The problem with this is your partner probably will not become the loving and supportive partner for whom you have always longed. Someone who is controlling and angry will most likely stay that way. Furthermore, if you have not done the work to heal the internally, no partner will fill the void left by a less-than-ideal parent. My advice to someone replaying a painful dynamic is to find a mental health professional who specializes in trauma to help you learn how to properly parent yourself.

Truly happy relationships require two people who are capable of a secure attachment. That means that they can be in a healthy, stable, intimate relationship without constantly questioning the relationship, looking for their next partner, or sabotaging intimacy. Having a secure attachment also means having a healthy dependency on each other, something that can be taboo in a society that rewards independence.

My advice is to do some work around healing your inner child. You can try doing this on your own with books, podcasts, meditation, journaling, and self-reflection. The best way, in my opinion, is with a therapist who is trained in doing inner child work. I would also say to look for a partner who is capable of a secure attachment. This includes a healthy balance of love, appreciation, and intimacy, without being overly clingy or anxious.

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but for our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

First off, I think accepting ourselves the way we are is awesome and amazing. I wish more people would put time and energy into the radical notion that we are just fine and normal, deserving of love and forgiveness. That said, there is always room for improvement. Some tough questions that people can ask themselves are:

When I’m down, how can I make sure I don’t stay that way for too long?

How can I complete myself without a partner?

Do I feel comfortable standing up for myself? If not, how could I improve in this area?

Do I have the tools to protect myself from physical, mental, and emotional harm?

What wounds from the past affect me and my relationships now? How can I heal?

I am the first one to admit that I stayed with my first husband for far too long. I even knew while walking down the aisle that marrying him would prove to be a mistake. I got caught up in all the marriage hoopla and other people’s expectations. I couldn’t protect myself. I didn’t have the tools to get in touch with my feelings and express myself in a healthy and productive way. I ESPECIALLY didn’t want to disappoint my family who had pushed for the union. In our third tumultuous year of marriage, I knew I needed to make a change when I started having a physical symptom of being overly stressed. I had times when my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest, shortness of breath and these symptoms made me tired almost all the time. I wasn’t keeping up at work and my co-workers were unhappy with me. In an attempt to take care of myself, I talked openly about my unhappy marriage, which only alienated everyone. Things were unraveling. I knew I wasn’t with the right partner for me, I knew things had to change, and I knew no one else could do the hard work that it would take to make things better. It was up to me.

I once read about how monkeys figured out how to use sticks to catch more insects by inserting them into holes in the ground and waiting for bugs to crawl up the stick, into their awaiting mouths. In a way, we are all monkeys learning how to use sticks when it comes to learning about and using emotional tools. In school, we spend years learning how to use a graphing calculator and zero minutes on how to love ourselves and each other. What a waste! Now, as adults, we’re all trying to figure it out and have shame about not being further along. We need to give ourselves a break. Loving yourself is a process, and we can all get there if enough time, attention, and resources are put into that process. Think of the alternative, NOT loving ourselves. There could be a lot of repercussions there.

So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

I always think it’s an advantage to live on your own for a while. I know that can be hard with housing costs soaring, but if you can swing it, it’s a great way to get to know yourself without a lot of distraction. Women, in particular, have commonly gone from their parents’ house to their partner’s home without ever having to create a personalized space in which to get in touch with who they are and what their space needs to look like. It’s crucial to the learning process to take time to love and appreciate yourself with or without a partner. He or she can be the most wonderful person on Earth, but they cannot teach you to love yourself. That’s an inside job.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

There is no substitute for showing up an authentic person. When you have a deep understanding and adoration for yourself, you know your faults and limitations and love yourself anyway! You also know your boundaries and can communicate them easily to other people. This creates realistic expectations on both sides and takes the pressure off trying to be someone you’re not.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

I once met a sex worker who said that people spend way too much time worrying about what other people think and feeling shame that is not our own. I couldn’t agree more, but how do we get to this place of being free from the shame? It takes work. You must identify and combat the symptoms of “comparitis,” you must look at yourself naked in a mirror and point out all the wonderful things about your body that you love and admire, you must take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual health, you must meditate, do yoga, or somehow get connected with something bigger than yourself, you must floss, you must hydrate…all the things that you KNOW are good for you but you aren’t doing now. Maybe not all at once, but slowly building healthy habits is the way to dig yourself out of almost every unhealthy hole in which you find yourself.

It helps to ask yourself what you’re missing today. Did you move your body? If not, when can you fit some exercise in? Are you feeling tired? When can you squeeze in a 20 min nap? Feeling like you’ve over-indulged? Make a plan to eat more veggies at dinner tonight. You can honor yourself by accepting that you have needs and giving into them. These small wins have a huge impact. You’ll feel so good after eating some nutrient-rich plants at dinner, you might do it again tomorrow, and the next day. Once you have one good habit down, time to work on hitting the gym more regularly, and so on. If you fall into the binge-watching, Dorito-eating, shame-filled rabbit hole, know that tomorrow is another chance to pull yourself out of that spiral.

When it comes to society, become a one-person cheering squad for yourself and other people. Throw compliments around like drunk confetti and see what an impact your positivity has on everyone. Refuse the notion that you have to be any one thing. You are you, and you’re gifted in some way that no one else is. That is sacred, so don’t tamper with perfection.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

Meditate, it changes everything. I couldn’t be the partner, the therapist, or the friend I am without it. And as much as I love being good to everyone else and serving clients to the best of my ability, the internal process is much more important. I know that no matter what happens, I have this gift of meditation and I’ll have some semblance of sanity if I can center myself every now and again.

Writing helps me when I’m feeling very emotional about something. Recently, we had some snow where I live and I was forced to spend a few days indoors. That has typically been hard for me as I get stuck in my own head and will sometimes obsess about events from the past where I have felt neglected, slighted, or wronged. Yes, even therapists do this because we are human and life is long and complicated. Anyway, during the snow storm, I began to think about how my grandmother would criticize me was growing up and how I hated spending time with her because of her nasty insults. My grandmother died over 10 years ago, but I obviously had some unprocessed feelings about our interactions. First, I honored my feelings and accepted that these memories had come up for a reason. Then, I decided to write a satirical story about awful it is for a kid to be in the care of a tyrannical monster. My relationship with my grandmother is reminiscent of the Miss Trunchbull/Matilda dynamic in the legendary book by Roald Dohl. Once my short story was written, I could put the whole ordeal to metaphorical bed. I had honored my feelings and dealt with them in a healthy way that made sense to me. I got out the demon inside that was eating my happiness. I could move on.

Stand naked in front of a mirror and thank your body. This required a bit of bravery, but it’s SO worth it in the end. If you’re a human in the world today, you are taught to be ashamed of your body. Your nose is too round, your boobs are lopsided, your legs are not long enough. The message is that if your body doesn’t remind anyone of Karlie Kloss, you should basically kill yourself. The level of aesthetic perfection has reached an all-time high and it’s getting more insane all the time. Take a page from the body positive movement and shut down all the negative self-talk. It’s. not. serving. you. Start with your head and thank your hair for looking good last Saturday night, or if you’re bald, thank your scalp for being symmetrical or looking cool in hats, or whatever you think is great about yourself. Work your way down to your forehead, your face. Thank your eyes for seeing, your mouth for tasting all the delicious foods you love, thank your arms for being able to throw a baseball with your child, thank your hands for all the millions of things they do from scratching an itch to writing the next great American novel. Keep going until you’re thanking your toes for walking and running or looking awesome after a pedicure. This new body appreciation will start a new way of thinking about your body. Suddenly, the bump on your nose or the cellulite on your thighs won’t matter because you’ll be focusing the outrageously amazing vessel that is you.

Spend time with supportive people. The famous motivational speak Jim Rohn said that we are a combination of the five people with whom we spend the most time. I believe there is some truth to this idea. If you leave your friend group feeling worse about yourself, they probably aren’t your people. Find a group that lifts you, introduces you to new things/ideas, makes you feel as though anything is possible. These groups are out there, but it might take some work to find one. An amazing friend group might not look like you, sound like you, they might be from different places and have different skin colors. Be open to a wide variety of possibilities.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

My favorite book about relationships is called, “Attached” by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller. In reading it, I learned so much about how people have different attachment styles, and why they influence behavior in a relationship. I recognized myself as having the avoidant attachment style, which means intimacy can feel unsafe for me. There are also anxious and secure attachment styles. I was able to do some of my own work to feel more secure and less avoidant.

I’ve recently started reading “Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha,” by Tara Brach. I love how she gives practical tips for self-care and how to think about suffering differently. She also points out all the different ways suffering can occur, like perfectionism, overwork, and conflict. Suffering is actually an opportunity for growth if you have the right mindset. How liberating is that?

I love Oprah’s podcast, “Super Soul Conversations.” She interviews the best spiritual teachers on the planet and also gives her own opinions and point of view on a wide variety of topics. In addition to addressing all things spiritual, she talks to famous people like Ralph Lauren and Tom Brady and asks them the questions we all want to know about like, “What does Tom Brady eat on a typical day?” The main takeaway that I’ve gotten out of her podcast is that we’re all really similar and we all want the same things like feeling connected to something bigger than ourselves, happy families, and worthwhile life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

One of the most influential leaders for women right now is Rachel Hollis who wrote, “Girl, Wash Your Face.” She preaches that we should all be going after our dreams, but she will sometimes do this at the expense of sleep (Just drink an extra espresso!), spending time with her family, and self-care. These are some of the ideas are paraphrased from her live Facebook morning show and from her books.

My movement would be called, “Girl, Find Some Balance.” I hope women can go after their dreams without working 80 hours a week. I would preach working (whether that is in or out of the house), making more time for quality interactions with your loved ones, with a healthy dose of sleep and self-care mixed in there.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

I recently heard, “Honesty without tact is cruelty.” I thought that was really true. You can’t be truthful and have no filter and all that, but without tact and appropriate timing, it’s just being mean. Intention is everything. I also like the idea of being “a spiritual being having a human existence.” There is so much power in realizing that no matter what mistakes we’ve made or victories we’ve had, we’ve learned from it all.

Kristin Marquet is the owner and publisher of FemFounder.co, a leading media company that publishes content on everything related to being a female entrepreneur. For more information, visit FemFounder.co.

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